20 Things to do with the Retrieve Command

I’ve got to teach my dog to retrieve. Check out this list of potential service dog tasks!


* Bring portable phone to any room in house
* Bring in groceries – up to ten canvas bags
* Unload suitable grocery items from canvas sacks
* Fetch a beverage from a refrigerator or cupboard
* Fetch food bowl(s)
* Pick up dropped items like coins, keys etc., in any location
* Bring clothes, shoes, or slippers laid out to assist with dressing
* Unload towels, other items from dryer
* Retrieve purse from hall, desk, dresser or back of van
* Assist to tidy house or yard – pickup, carry, deposit designated items
* Fetch basket with medication and/or beverage from cupboard
* Seek & find teamwork – direct the dog with hand signals, vocal cues to: retrieve an unfamiliar object out of partner’s reach locate TV remote control select one of several VCR tapes atop TV cabinet, other surfaces
* Remove VCR tape from machine after eject button pushed
* Use target stick to retrieve an indicated item off shelves in stores retrieve one pair of shoes from a dozen in closet
* Use laser pointer to target an item to be retrieved
* Drag Cane from its customary location to another room
* Pick up and return cane if falls off back of wheelchair
* Pickup or fetch Canadian crutches from customary location
* Drag walker back to partner
* Fetch wheelchair when out of reach

CARRYING BASED TASKS (non retrieval)

* Move bucket from one location to another, indoors & outdoors
* Lug a basket of items around the house
* Transport items downstairs or upstairs to a specific location
* Carry item(s) from the partner to a care-giver or family member in another room
* Send the dog to obtain food or other item from a care-giver and return with it.
* Dog carries a prearranged object to care-giver as a signal help is needed
* Carry items following a partner using a walker, other mobility aids
* Pay for purchases at high counters
* Transfer merchandise in bag from a clerk to a wheelchair user’s lap
* Carry mail or newspaper into the house


* Put trash, junk mail into a wastebasket or garbage can
* Deposit empty soda pop can or plastic bottle into recycling bin
* Assist partner to load clothing into top loading washing machine
* Dirty food bowl [dog’s] – put into kitchen sink
* Put silverware, non breakable dishes, plastic glasses in sink
* Deliver items to “closet” [use a floor marker to indicate drop location]
* Deposit dog toys into designated container
* Put prescription bag, mail, other items on counter top


* Open cupboard doors with attached strap
* Open drawers via strap
* Open refrigerator door with a strap or suction cup device
* Open interior doors via a strap with device to turn knob
* Answer doorbell and open front door with strap attached to lever handle
* Open or close sliding glass door with a strap or other tug devices
* Shut restroom door that opens outward via a leash tied to doorknob
* Close stall door that opens outward in restroom by delivering end of the leash to partner
* Shut interior home, office doors that open outward
* Shut motel room exterior door that opens inward
* Assist to remove shoes, slippers, sandals
* Tug socks off without biting down on foot
* Remove slacks, sweater, coat
* Drag heavy coat, other items to closet
* Drag laundry basket through house with a strap
* Drag bedding to the washing machine
* Wrestle duffle bag or other objects from the van into the house
* Pull a drapery cord to open or close drapes
* Assist to close motel room drapes by tugging on edge near bottom of drape, backing up
* Operate rope device that lifts blanket and sheet or re-covers disabled person when he or she becomes too hot or cold.
* Alternatively, take edge of a blanket and move backwards, tugging to remove it or assist someone to pull the blanket up to their chin if cold


* Cupboard door or drawers – nudge shut
* Dryer door – hard nudge
* Stove drawer – push it shut
* Dishwasher door – put muzzle under open door, flip to shut
* Refrigerator & freezer door – close with nudge
* Call 911 on K-9 rescue phone – push the button
* Operate button or push plate on electric commercial doors
* Turn on light switches
* Push floor pedal device to turn on lamp
* Turn on metal based lamps with touch-lamp device installed – nudge base
* Assist wheelchair user to regain sitting position if slumped over
* Help put paralyzed arm back onto the armrest of wheelchair
* Return paralyzed foot to the foot board of a wheelchair if it is dislodged

PAWING BASED TASKS (some dogs prefer it to nose nudge)

* Cupboard door – shut it with one paw
* Dryer door – shut it with one paw
* Refrigerator & freezer door – one forepaw or both
* Call 911 on K-9 rescue phone – hit button with one paw
* Operate light switch on wall – jump up, paw the switch
* Depress floor pedal device to turn on appliance(s) or lamp
* Jump up to paw elevator button [steady dog if he tries it on slippery tile floor]
* Operate push plate on electric commercial doors
* Close heavy front door, other doors – jump up, use both forepaws


* Transfer assistance from wheelchair to bed, toilet, bathtub or van seat – hold Stand Stay position, then brace on command, enabling partner to keep their balance during transfer
* Assist to walk step by step, brace between each step, from wheelchair to nearby seat
* Position self and brace to help partner catch balance after partner rises from a couch or other seats in a home or public setting
* Prevent fall by bracing on command if the partner needs help recovering balance.
* Steady partner getting in or out of the bathtub
* Assist partner to turn over in bed; have appropriate backup plan
* Pull up partner with a strap [tug of war style] from floor to feet on command, then brace till partner catches balance

HARNESS BASED TASKS – Mobility Assistance
(Only appropriate for large sturdy adult dogs with sound joints, proper training)

* Assist moving wheelchair on flat [partner holds onto harness pull strap] avoiding obstacles
* Work cooperatively with partner to get the wheelchair up a curb cut or mild incline; handler does as much of the work as possible, never asking the dog to attempt an incline unaided
* Haul open heavy door, holding it ajar using six foot lead attached to back of harness, other end of lead attached to door handle or to a suction cup device on a glass door
* Tow ambulatory partner up inclines [harness with rigid handle or pull strap may be used]
* Brace on command to prevent ambulatory partner from stumbling [rigid handle]
* Help ambulatory partner to climb stairs, pulling then bracing on each step [rigid handle or harness with pull strap may be used to assist partner to mount a step or catch balance]
* Pull partner out of aisle seat on plane, then brace until partner catches balance [harness with a rigid handle and a pull strap, or pull strap only]
* Brace, counter balance work too, assisting ambulatory partner to walk; the partner pushes down on the rigid handle as if it were a cane, after giving warning command, when needed
* Help ambulatory partner to walk short distance, brace between each step [rigid handle]
* Transport textbooks, business supplies or other items up to 50 lbs in a wagon or collapsible cart, weight limit depends on dog’s size, physical fitness, type of cart, kind of terrain
* Backpacking – customary weight limit is 15% of the dog’s total body weight;10% if a dog performing another task, such as wheelchair pulling in addition to backpacking; total weight includes harness (average 3 – 4 lbs.). Load must be evenly distributed to prevent chafing.


* Bark for help on command
* Find the care-giver on command, lead back to location of disabled partner
* Put forepaws in lap of wheelchair user, hold that upright position so wheelchair user can access medication or cell phone or other items in the backpack
* Wake up partner if smoke alarm goes off, assist to nearest exit


* Operate push button device to call 911, an ambulance service or another person to help in a crisis; let emergency personnel into home and lead to partner’s location
* Fetch insulin kit, respiratory assist device or medication from customary place during a medical crisis
* Lie down on partner’s chest to produce a cough, enabling patient to breath, when suction machine and/or care-giver unavailable

From International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, Assistance Dog Tasks



  1. Lisa M

    That’s really impressive. How long do they need to be in training to be able to do all that?

    A friend of mine had a service puppy-in-training for a year. It was absolutely amazing how he learned the basics of accompanying her everywhere, the difference between being in harness and being in play mode, etc.. He seemed to be doing great and she had high hopes he’d pass his exams to go into service later. I hope somewhere Haggar is a great partner for someone!

  2. Katja (Post author)

    Somewhere on the IAADP’s website (I couldn’t find it again after a quick search) is a recommendation for the minimum amount of training and a sort of minimal acceptability test for a training assistance dog.


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